264 B- POLEVOI
to let the new man go up alone the next day and after
two or three flights put him into a "UT-2" training plane,
a miniature, plywood copy of a fighter plane.
It was cold. The thermometer on the wing registered
12° C below zero. A piercing wind blew into the cockpit,
penetrating the instructor's dogskin flying boots and turn-
ing his feet into ice. It was time to land.
But every time he commanded: "Go in for landing!"
through the intercom, he saw in his mirror a pair of black,
burning, imploring eyes. No, they did not implore, they
demanded, and he could not find it in his heart to refuse,
instead of ten minutes, they flew for half an hour.
Leaping out of the cockpit, Naumov stamped his feet
and flapped his arms; the early frost certainly had a nip
in it that morning! The trainee, however, fidgeted with
something in the cockpit for a while and then alighted
slowly, and reluctantly it seemed. When he got his feet
on the ground he squatted near the wing with a happy,
really intoxicated smile on his lips, and with his cheeks
flushed by the frost and excitement.
"Gold, eh?" the instructor asked. "It got me right
through my flying boots, but you are wearing ordinary
shoes! Aren't your feet frozen?"
"I have no feet," answered the trainee, continuing to
smile at his own thoughts.
"What!" ejaculated Naumov, his jaw dropping with
"I have no feet," Meresyev repeated distinctly.
"What do you mean, you have no feet? Do you mean
there's something wrong with them?"
"No, I have no feet at all. These are artificial."
For a moment Naumov stood riveted to the ground with
amazement. What that queer fellow had said was unbe-
lievable. No feet! But he had just been flying, and flying
"Let's see," he said, and there was a note of apprehen-
sion in his voice.
This inquisitiveness neither annoyed nor offended
Alexei. On the contrary, he wanted to put the finishing
touch to the surprise of this funny old fellow, and, with
a gesture like that of a conjuror performing a trick, he
lifted the legs of his trousers.